Tonight's final IR class did nothing to mollify my cynicism about the NUS mode of education. Although the prof wasn't as horrifyingly prescriptive as his counterpart from the economics department, he opened the floor to questions in the second hour of class and that just opened the floodgates.

We have a term that is distinctively Singaporean, both in origin and its applicability: kiasu. It refers to the fear of losing. With regards to tonight's class, it refers to the compulsion to ask about the teeniest, tiniest detail of the course, driven by the fear that if one doesn't ask now, one just might need to know it for the final and wouldn't that be the end of the world.

But actually, that wasn't what irritated me about tonight's questions. What had me all but rolling my eyes was people not knowing the difference between 'self-determination' and 'nationalism'. I barely keep up with the daily news, and I knew the answer to that one before I took this class. And someone else was glad that the readings for today don't count for the final --- completely missing the prof's remark that while they weren't essential, they would come in useful in approaching the final. Heaven forbid she ever have to read anything that isn't required.

I'm bitter, I know.

On to happier subjects. Today I wore my shiny new red Swatch to work. It's a farewell gift from three of my colleagues, who stood by my desk on Friday and presented it to me. I was totally taken by surprise, since it wasn't yet my last day of work, nor would I have been expecting anything --- and certainly not a Swatch! --- from anyone if it had.

Today my department had its usual end-of-term meeting plus I got a little farewell too. They got me Borders book vouchers --- the best gift for a teacher, I swear, especially a literature teacher --- and an awesome card. Now I just hope my transfer goes through. One of my colleagues was scheduled to move to Public Affairs too some years back, but they botched it and she's still teaching at my school today. Fingers crossed, everybody. It'll be too weird to show up in school after spending all the book vouchers.

In the light of Friday night's revelation about NUS, I have to record the fact that I'm now in the library and it's packed. It's always been near-to-empty on Mondays, but not today. And people are working too, not just messing about on the internet or whatever. Exams are round the corner, and all the boys and girls who faked it throughout the term have nowhere to hide now.


I have about ten minutes to rush this entry out before we leave, so here goes. Let's go chronologically backwards, huh? Because I think my mind will handle that better at this early-but-not-early-enough-to-be-godforsaken hour of the morning.

We're up early because we're going hiking in a while. The mountain-climbing/hiking goddess Cindy has decided to organize a hike to Pulau Ubin, an island off the east coast of Singapore which is scheduled to be urbanly redeveloped into some hideous farce of a 'resort' island. Meanwhile, it's still reasonably pristine and not too modern --- when I went there for hikes in my schooldays, we always joked about the lone taxi on the island, though there were a number of motorcycles. I think they're planning to build apartment buildings on the island as well. Whatever. The point is, they're closing the island in a month or two's time, and Cindy wants to hike it now. So a-hiking we will go, on a Sunday morning.

We don't have to be at Changi Jetty till 9 am, but we need to grab breakfast from the prata place downstairs first. We skipped dinner again last night, even though there's leftover roast duck in the fridge, and I think hiking on an empty stomach would be a bad idea, though we're well-hydrated --- Terz advised drinking half a liter of water last night before we went to bed, and I think I only drank half of that, but that was all my stomach could take.

By the way, Pulau Ubin is not a difficult hike. If it were, I'd give it a miss without a second thought (like I refused to go climb Gunung Tahan earlier this year with Terz and his boys) and still be in bed.

Ugh. Terz is getting dressed. I need to type faster.

Last night, Terz went over to his mom's to watch Band of Brothers because we don't have HBO and she does. I didn't because I tried to be a good student and do some preparation for that 15-page essay I have to write by next Monday. I did pretty good work, mostly because my mind concentrates better on studying-type things at night, and also I'd taken a two and a half hour nap before that.

In the afternoon, I was at my ex-classmate Gerri's place. Gerri got married last month. She also announced yesterday (albeit awkwardly) that she's four months pregnant. The awkwardness is not due to the mismatch in wedding and conception dates. Gerri had the legal/civil ceremony months ago because she and her husband needed to do that in order to buy the apartment they're living in. (Public housing is very draconian here --- you can't buy any if you're living in sin.) The awkwardness was due to the fact that they didn't figure on having a kid so soon. I'd still be freaking out four months into the pregnancy if it was a totally unexpected thing. Fortunately, when everyone looked expectantly at me after her announcement (I was the longest married person in the room), I could confidently tell them that no such announcement was forthcoming from my corner, thankyouverymuch.

Then we had lunch. Gerri and Ben (Ben and Gerri sounds so --- well) made dumplings from scratch, which rates hugely in my book. I mean, Terz is a good cook and I'm halfway decent (more halfway than decent), but you won't catch us making things from scratch. I'm supposed to learn to make kueh lapis (a kind of cake) this holidays from my aunt the veteran cake-maker, and I'm a little apprehensive about the idea because that's a really elaborate kind of cake to make too.

Lunch with friends was good. They're all my junior college ex-classmates, and we don't get together enough. I'm sufficiently inspired to want to throw Gerri a baby shower, except that when talking to another of the ex-classmates on the phone last night, it seems people do that after the birth of the child here, so as not to jinx it or just in case anything untoward happens at the late stage in the pregnancy. Ugh. I hadn't thought of that. But I want to throw a party while Gerri is still pregnant!

Less talk, more writing.

Yesterday morning, I went to a god-awful Ministry of Education meeting. I can't say what went on there because it's all tip-top secret (it was a meeting for examination officials for the November Cambridge examinations), but when I have the time, I'll tell you just what sorts of stupid questions teachers can ask, which makes us as a profession look even more stupid and less professional, which makes Mel (my colleague/fellow exam official) and I realize with a deep sigh why we get so little respect from the Ministry. Suffice to say, it was a frustrating morning and the afternoon was much better.

Okay, I gotta go. Terz has already given me the water bottle to tote for the day. More later!


I bought a maroon umbrella today. If you didn't know already, maroon is totally my color. I have enough maroon in my wardrobe that I could wear it everyday for a week (including one of my wedding dresses). I also have accessories, nail polish and every time I see a cool pair of maroon shoes, I have to restrain myself. My husband bought me a file to carry to class earlier this year and the wise man bought it in maroon.

So you get that I like maroon.

I bought a maroon umbrella because I'm always leaving umbrellas in places and losing them as a result. Hopefully, if it's an umbrella I like, I won't lose it --- although I damn near left it behind in class tonight already.

I bought an umbrella because we have none in the house now and it's been unseasonably rainy lately. All our (three) umbrellas are in the car. The car is at the workshop. Ergo, we have no umbrellas. And people ask me why we don't have kids yet.

* * *

Every Friday night, I take the train home and there's always some people dressed up so you know they're going clubbing. And me? After a day at work, a three-hour economics class and an irregular dinner, I'm too pooped for anything but a little TV, a little internet, or the odd episode of Survivor. Just call me an old biddy.

On the bright side, tonight was the last econ class --- hurrah! --- though I will need the next couple of Friday nights to get homework and studying done before deadlines and finals respectively. Bah.

Speaking of finals, the prof spent fifteen minutes tonight explaining the format of the final. First, he went through the usual stuff: two hours, seven questions, pick any three. So far, pretty normal, though it was still more than I ever got in my undergraduate days at Northwestern.

Then the prof maundered on to something strange. "I expect text," he said, not laundry lists, "sentences, paragraphs..." I was pretty taken aback. Is there a way to answer an essay question without, well, writing an essay? What kind of students was he used to? This was a graduate-level class, after all.

It promptly got worse. He assured us that the final would contain no surprises, that the questions wouldn't require us to integrate our knowledge. (I began to get a sick feeling in my stomach.) He then reviewed quickly all the topics we'd covered in eleven weeks of lectures, grouped them --- in pairs, mostly --- so that we had no doubt which were related and which were exclusive, and even elaborated on key questions for each topic.

Perhaps I should reiterate that he's just finished teaching all these topics in excellent detail. It's not as if this was all we were getting at the start of term before he left us on our own in the library. What the hell...?

I admit that I took down some of what he said. I felt sick, but I did it anyway. I'd anticipated challenge, I'd anticipated some hard nights of studying as I tried to put everything from the entire semester together in some grand, if daunting, vision of the international economic system. How foolishly ambitious of me. Piecemeal will do, even for a graduate degree, and Heaven forbid we have to do any independent thinking.

Frankly, I'm disappointed. Economics isn't my favorite subject, despite this prof's best efforts, but I was just starting to get into the rhythm of things, to enjoy looking at the big picture, the real world, and seeing it more clearly than I had a few months ago. And now, I get this --- spoonfeeding, Singapore style, par excellence.

In my own defense, I took down some of what the prof said because it will save me some time in studying and I need that time. But I'm not proud of it. I am a well-trained, consummate Singapore student, even though I haven't had to think or act like one since 1992.

Does any other university do this? Is this procedure strangely the norm at NUS and other local universities? Nothing of the sort occurred at NIE (the local teachers' training college) and that's my only prior experience with local post-graduate education. Even for a $1,000/semester education, this is pretty shoddy.

Right after the prof finished his review, the classmate on my right turned to check if the balance of payments and foreign exchange stuff were one topic or two, and the one on my left asked me worriedly why there were more than seven topics but only seven questions on the final. I gritted my teeth, pretended to be listening to the miscellaneous comments the prof was still making, and didn't answer either of them.


I'm home and procrastinating further on my homework. I downloaded a number of journal articles that are prospects for the 15-pager that's due in exactly two weeks' time. I really should've read them all by now and made my choices, but what can I say --- KK and I weren't kidding when we said we'd elevated procrastination into an art form. My current excuse is that I have to leave for work extra early tomorrow (the phenomenally important year-end science practical exams --- see what I mean about exams here? --- are on), so I'm going to go to bed after posting this. I must announce, however, that I have a new gripe! Or Tym's Thought. Or whatever the hell I'm going to call that section.

I find it peculiar that the Catholic Students' Society at the local university is organising an ''Exam Mass", subtitled "In Gods [sic] Time". Seeing a bold banner for the event made me smile --- how thoroughly Singaporean it is. There are so many dire world needs at the moment --- starving Afghan refugees, world peace, jobs for local families whose breadwinners have quite literally lost everything, the frequently neglected environment that is certain to be compromised further in the wake of the world's reordered priorities --- but let us pray for our exams that are with us now and forevermore.

The thing is, I remember what that was like: when exams were paramount, their results an oracle of my fate, and when I scoffed at those who brought Bibles and other relics in, but I made sure I offered God an unbeatable bargain in the ten-second pre-exam prayer too. Exams are everything here, but staring at the Exam Mass banner made me realize how horribly wrong and incongruous that is.

I am writing this on my Palm on the shakiest MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train in the world. Starting and stopping procedures are smooth, but once it accelerates to full speed, it rattles with the ferocity of a Chicago El train. The other thing I noticed is that the new station (Dover) on the West line outside Singapore Polytechnic is open. It's a smashing station --- all glass and minimalist in design --- and those of you from/in Singapore may be relieved to learn that they found the same woman to record the public announcement of the station name, so it sounds as mechanically feminine as all the others and they didn't have to redo all the recordings, the way they recolored the maps (new train lines opening next year) and renumbered some stations.

Either that, or when the poor woman was hired, they made her record every possible station name that the subway system would ever need.


So the 21st has passed and the world hasn't come to an end. No earthquake, not even the teeniest rumble in neighboring Indonesia (which is capable of the mightiest of upheavals, geological and social). Which, if you're me, goes to prove one of two things: if you fear something, you'll jinx it and it won't happen; or that we've outlived the age of prophecy.

Not that I spent yesterday quivering in fear or anything. In fact, I didn't notice it was the 21st till well into the day. That's what I get for watching fourepisodes of The West Wing straight. I've been taping it faithfully for the past month and some, and it was only after watching them all yesterday that I realized we'd reached the season finale already. They're showing the Very Special Terrorist Episode next week, which is cool because now I won't have to oblige my cousin to bring it back from Australia (where they showed it some weeks ago), but on the other hand, I've heard so many bad things about it that I fear its own ambitions. Come to think of it, I think I'll still appreciate my cousin's version, if only to verify that nothing was censored in our broadcast.

I realize I have been woefully remiss in journal-keeping this past week, but I've been feeling strongly anti-computer of late.


Tonight has been a good night for positive family encounters. First there was the mom and daughter on the train --- they really have a good rapport. I thought relationships like that didn't exist anymore, except on Gilmore Girls (although neither mother and daughter on the train were speaking half as fast as those Gilmores). On the walk from the train station back home, I crossed an open air parking lot, and there was a family playing badminton there. It was pretty odd, 'cause the street lighting wasn't very good and I'm not sure they could see the shuttlecock at certain angles, but it was Dad vs. Mom & Son, and it was all very homely and we-love-each-other-and-are-getting-along and it didn't seem to bother them that it was 10:15 pm and perhaps past the kid's bedtime. It made me smile.

And then I reach home, and I have five friends and my husband watching the end of The Usual Suspects. He cooked for them earlier and I get to eat leftover potato salad, since my stomach's been weird all day and I don't particularly want anything heavier/tastier. However, I also cannot watch Survivor (good thing the cable channel AXN is rerunning it like three times a week after the Friday night telecast), so I'm going to upload this, so you all know I'm doing okay and haven't forgotten about this journal, and now I will go eat strudel with them.

Sadly, I have to again.

So I'm on the bus from the university campus to the train station and I realize that the woman sitting in front of me is picking God-knows-what out of her shoulder-length hair! I thought at first she was just ruffling it the way long-haired people do when it's been a long day and their hair's somewhat tangly, but after a few moments' of intent scrutiny, she couldn't have been doing anything but picking dandruff or whatever crap it was off her scalp. In public. For the entire ten-minute bus ride. YUCK.

I was so disgusted that I had to SMS a friend to vent immediately. My friend reminded me that I was lucky no wind was blowing the dross my way. I was still pretty freaked at my proximity to her germs.

And then, it turns out she's taking my train! While waiting for it, she sat down on the bench next to mine. Again I feared for the health of my hair, because Dandruff Woman started picking away immediately, again under the guise of riffling through her hair. Note: Dandruff Woman is in her thirties and dressed for a white-collar job (though sans jacket). I don't really know that I expect anyone these days to pick stuff from their hair, in public or in private, so I don't know if that matters.

Anyway, now she's in the same carriage of the same train. I let her board first, so there was no chance of her sitting beside me. I can't see her, so I don't know if she's still at it.

On the bright side, I happen to be sitting beside a secondary schoolgirl (CHIJ, for you curious minds that want to know) and her mom, and the girl was at my school's open house today. It's funny listening to her tell her mom all about it. She just pointed at the face of my student and said she looks old. She was complaining about how run-down the school facilities are, which is what kids said when I enrolled as a student 10 years ago. But she seems to have had a good time there. I shan't stun them by introducing myself as a teacher of the institution they're discussing. They've got a good rhythm going.

I'm always surprised when presentations by twentysomethings involves them reading word for word everything on their slides or transparencies. The slide/transparency is not a teleprompter, boys and girls. It's there to help the audience follow your spiel, alert them to the structure of your presentation, or at the worst, keep them awake. I can read, but I prefer not to read in 12-point font on a screen. Use 18-point font; 24's better.



I didn't think I would be able to get an entry in tonight, but my evening appointment was cancelled and here I am, with a couple of hours free. I have to get started on research for my IR paper in a bit, but I'll indulge in a journal entry for now.

The first thing Terz and I did on Sunday morning when we woke up (the day after purchasing our new cellphones, remember?) was to log on and try out alternative ringtones, and download the ones we liked. Alas, Terz couldn't find an equally strident version of "The Imperial March", which was his trademark ring for his old phone, so he had to settle for a Guns'N'Roses tone. I re-downloaded the version of The Simpsons theme that I've been using, as well as the theme from E.T. and "Kyle's Mom is a Bitch" from everyone's favorite kiddies at South Park; I'm not sure I want to use the latter, but the sequence of notes is good for a telephone ringtone. I've heard people using Buffy and Angel ringtones --- rare, but all the more unusual in Singapore, where most kids have theirs tuned to Britney Spears or something lame like that --- but I couldn't find them. Ah well.

However, I have not yet purchased any new press-on covers for my phone. I'd have to go to one of the neighborhood shopping centers, and I haven't quite found the time or energy for that yet. I have, however, a child's sock with Winnie the Pooh on it that is doubling as a cellphone case. My colleague's student gave her a pair of the socks, and she was like, "Um, Winnie the Pooh is okay, but my feet aren't that small," and the student was like, "Uh --- this is all the rage now for carrying your handphone, ma'am." But her phone doesn't fit into it, so she gave me one sock and gave another colleague the other, and we've smooshed the phones in the socks in a way so that you don't know they're Winnie the Pooh socks unless I show you where the Pooh is hidden.

(Heh. "Where the Pooh is hidden." That should be a title for this entry.)

Which is all way more than you needed/wanted to know about my telephone lifestyle.

Okay, what else did I do these three days? Work was ho-hum. Non-work was ho-hum. Our social calendar is filling up with events --- everyone wants to do something next weekend (Oct 27-28). I ICQ'd my sick friend in Florida and I don't think things were too awkward; we were talking mostly about his daughter, who is a darling, from all accounts, and can cheer up the dourest personality. He also forwarded me e-mail updates on his health situation, which contain both good and bad news. But everyone is, naturally, grateful that there is the good still.

Bookwise, I've finally finished Tender is the Night. Damn, that book's depressing. I thought it ended a little too quickly, which might be the result of Fitzgerald having opened up several cans of worms and not really having any other neat way to close them again. I'm moving on to A.S. Byatt's Still Life; I bought it last week with my expiring-on-October-11 Kinokuniya vouchers, based on the recommendation of a colleague/friend who's reading Possession. I have to admit that the first chapter put me to sleep on the train ride home today, but then again, maybe I was just tired at 4:20 pm when it's oh-so-hot anyways.

My new resolution is to speak more slowly. I received this ICQ message today from a student:

"Ms [Tym] [Ed: name edited] was saeing sthg like."when u wana ask qn,.. plse intro urslf... etc etc... only 1 qn... n not argue wif the guest over certain issues..we dun want a repeat of wat we saw at Scube"..she said alot more.. but u noe she speaks so fast..only got the main idea.. cant rem the exact words..but she made it sound rather funny...n everyone was luffing"

Internet-Singlish/English Translation: "Ms Tym [Ed: name edited] [that's me] was saying something like, "When you wanna ask a question, please introduce yourself, etc. etc. ... only [ask] one question ... and don't argue with the guest over certain issues ... we don't want a repeat of what we saw at S-cube [a defense seminar all the second-year students at my school had to attend earlier this year]" ... She saw a lot more, but you know she speaks so fast ... only got the main idea ... [I] can't remember the exact words, but she made it sound rather funny ... and everyone was laughing..."

I've always known that I speak too fast for my own good --- my mom's been telling me that since I was about eleven --- and I've tried time after time to slow down, to remind myself to slow down as I'm on my way to teach a class. But the moment I'm on a roll, I don't even think about the speed at which I'm speaking; I'm too eager to get the words out. I suppose living in the USA for four years exacerbated it because Americans speak damn fast too, but I really should do better. I worry that my students only heard or understood half of what I've been saying for two years. And all my good jokes! All lost in haste! The ICQ comment above redeems itself somewhat with the latter bit about everyone laughing, and I distinctly remember trying to make it light-hearted because you've got to prep students when they're having a serious or important guest speaker, otherwise their minds switch off before the guest even arrived --- but it really doesn't obviate the overall problem.

I speak too fast. I type in too-long sentences. Oh, and my thoughts frequently wind up in a completely different place from where they started.

Tourette's, anyone?


I just watched a good portion of MTV's Best Promos. It's really quite amusing and pretty damn funny too, despite the inevitable self-references and the fairly irritating veejay (I dislike most, if not all of them). The only promo I didn't like was the one about him.

Today has been a thoroughly lazy day. I should have done some work, because I have three papers due for my masters' class in the first week of November --- a 4/5-pager, a 8/9-pager, and an extensive 15-pager which has to be a comparative review of three journal articles on international relations. But after I launched Word, opened a new document, typed in the assignment topic and a couple of desultory sentences from my notes, and saved the document with an appropriate filename, I felt I had done enough for one day. It's the 15-pager that is most on my mind, because I really enjoy that class and want to do well in it. It's the class I had to prepare a book review for two weeks ago (I got an A on the review and a B+ on the presentation; the latter is no surprise since I always talk too fast and am no good at answering off-the-cuff questions), and no matter what the rest of my classmates say about it being too much reading, I really like it. Can I help it if I get excited about academic issues? Although I am admittedly very unexcited about my international economics class.

I took a nap at 5 pm, but was summoned forth peremptorily at 6:40 pm because it's Terz's brother's birthday and we had to take him out to dinner with the family. I don't mind that; it's just that his brother decided at the last that he wanted a birthday dinner after all, despite protests to the contrary last weekend, so we were in a bit of a rush. We had Japanese food, which was fine. What was not fine was that while we were waiting for our food, I suddenly felt faint and queasy and broke out into a cold sweat. Every other time that's happened, I promptly fainted for a few seconds. Fortunately, I was sitting down, so I put my head on the table and dabbed myself with a cold towel till the spell passed. I have no idea what brought it on, though. Terz's mom suggested it was the poor ventilation in the crowded restaurant, which might well have done me in since once I fainted in a crowded room too. But that was also due to my not eating all day, and I had reheated pizza at 2 pm today, so there's really no explicable reason for my fainting. Ideas, anyone?

I took about ten minutes to recover from the queasy-cold sweat spell, and then I was fine. Eating some pickled ginger helped to settle me, and once the food arrived, I was fine --- fine enough that after dinner, we went and bought new cellphones. All Terz's brother wanted was a spare battery for his, but once we got in the store and found out what the weekend deals were, Terz and I decided to get (the same) new phones. For those of you that care, we got the Nokia 3330. We are aware that it's a WAP-able phone and neither of us have WAP service because it's too damn expensive still, but with the offer price, the 3330 was cheaper than it's WAPless counterpart, the 3310, so we took it. Plus it's all of 20 grams lighter. Now I have to go shopping for a cool Powerpuff Girls cover for it and I can get my friend to send me a picture message of the Powerpuff Girls. Ah --- life is good when you can personalise your phone to such ridiculous extents.

And you thought I was a serious grad student, from what I said in the earlier paragraphs.

I denied my mother access to this website today. Well, not in so many words, but I politely declined to reveal the URL to her. My brother (you big mouth!) told her about it. It's not that anything I write here is tip-top secret, only for my friends, but I write for a specific audience (friends living outside Singapore whom I don't get to see/talk to on a regular basis) and it would be too weird to work the parental units into that equation. I told Mom that I talk to her all the time (okay, at least once a week) so she doesn't need to read my journal. I hope I wasn't too curt when I said that. I suppose I will tell her in time --- once I get over the odd wiggins I still feel from keeping such a public record of an ostensibly private life.

It struck me, on our way to dinner, that I should write a parody of all the horrible General Paper (translation: current affairs, writing and reading comprehension class that I teach) essays, as a swan song to my teaching sojourn. Perhaps that's what I'll spend December doing once I'm done with all my real work.


Catty Snark of the Day: A twenty-year-old who doesn't know where stamps go on an envelope shouldn't be applying to study law in the United Kingdom. He noted jokingly that he might not even make it to the UK even if he gets in because his plane might get downed by terorrists en route, but I think he's giving himself too much credit to think he'd get in anywhere. Bleah.

I just ran into my friend's little sister here at the NUS (National University of Singapore) library. This may not sound too coincidental till I tell you that my friend lives in Florida, I went to college with her in the mid-'90s, and I only met her sister once, maybe twice when the kid sister was still in her teens. Now the sister is in her fourth year of undergraduate study, working on her honors thesis, and thinking about teaching after she graduates. How time flashes past us.

The news about my friend is not so good. I know her husband was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, and now the no-more-a-kid sister tells me that the cancer returned too soon after his operation. The current situation does not bode well.

This encounter has stirred up all my residual guilt again. I was really close to them in college (her then-boyfriend graduated from Northwestern too and was working in Chicago) and they've bailed me out on more than a couple of occasions when I needed the emotional support. Now they have this huge --- thing in their lives and I have no idea how to deal with it. I haven't e-mailed them in ages because I have no idea what to say that wouldn't be silly, trite or insensitive; in fact, the last Xmas card I sent them was all blathering and aimless, and I wish I hadn't sent it. Now [Ed: name deleted] the sister will certainly mention it in her next correspondence with them, so I have to write. I'm glad for the external impulsion, but I still don't know what to say. Do I talk about myself, act normal? Or do I dwell on them? What do you say to someone who is dying? Advice, anyone?

This has been too much about me already.

I'm glad I ran into [Ed: name deleted] the sister and had the guts to approach her. I would have walked away, but when she fell in line behind me at the borrowing queue, I knew it was a sign. --- Yes, signs again. I see them everywhere. And you thought I had a modern soul.


A T-shirt that reads, "Topless Jogger". Think about it.

The words were emblazoned across the back of the T-shirt, which isn't as funny as if they were on the front, but still. The woman wearing it didn't look remotely like she'd be a topless jogger either. When I passed her and glanced backwards briefly, I saw that the words were repeated --- but smaller --- on the front of the shirt, over a small logo like the logo for a charity walk/run (or maybe it was the 'jogger' part of the message that made me think that). I still couldn't figure out why she was wearing it.

* * *

Children have amused me a lot lately. Over the past two days, I've seen boys from the neighborhood in the longkang (storm drain) by the Kembangan MRT station, looking for fish --- not the safest pastime, perhaps, and I always imagine a torrent of storm runoff washing them away even though that's impossible here, but it's a rare sight, reminiscent of kampong life, right here in urban Singapore. After I overtook today's non-topless non-jogging Topless Jogger, I spied a boy happily gouging a niche out of a tree; I worried for a moment that he was killing the tree, but heck. Trees are a dime a dozen here, but you don't see kids climbing tree, ever (there's probably a law against it), and I really don't think he's a budding juvenile delinquent, just a curious kid.

And now there's a group of six or seven deaf kids on the train --- about thirteen years old, maybe? The really sad thing is that they're the most multiracial group of kids their age I've seen, ever, and it's probably their disability that draws them together, beyond the cultural barrier.


I am on the coldest bus in the world. It is so cold that all the windows, except the front windscreen, are misted over with condensation. It is so cold, I wish I had a jacket, even for a five-minute ride. It is so cold that when I boarded the bus, my body thought we had entered a space/time warp-portal: it felt like I had stepped off a flight to a temperate country, what with the frigid temperature and utter lack of humidity.

I am home and Terz indeed has a mild bruise from the close encounter with my fist this morning. I am contrite and calculating the appropriate penitence, barring the extreme solution of getting separate beds. For one thing, our room is too small for separate beds.

My brother sent me an e-mail, moved by yesterday's journal entry, to assure me that Singapore in an earthquake-free zone. See, the thing is: I know all this. I am not about to rush out and stock up on boh chye and pretend to get ready Survivor-style before Oct 21. I'm too rational for that. But that irrational part of me ist hinking: if you fear it, it won't happen; if you ignore it, it will happen --- so fear it, but don't act on that fear, and all will be well.

My mind works in mysterious ways --- truly.

Since I brought up Survivor, I think it is appropriate that while I am in this penitential mood, that I confess that I plan to watch the next season of Survivor when it airs on Friday ('live' from the US, i.e. midday, though it will be rebroadcast at prime time). This is not a product of well-honed devotion to the TV show. I disdained the concept when the first season made its debut, refused to have anything to do with it, and freely disparaged people who were hooked on it, including my friends. With the second season, a couple of insidious forces infiltrated my home and the next thing I knew, one fine Friday evening, as the two tribes were about to merge, there it was: Survivor, coming to you from a big TV screen in my apartment (it was you, wasn't it, G?). And then we kept watching --- partly because my husband and the aforementioned G thought Elizabeth was cute, mostly because it was oddly addictive and unexpectedly funny. (That whole thing with them carving idols and tossing them over the gorge still cracks me up, as does Jerri and Colby's 'getaway' to the Great Barrier Reef where Colby stole coral.)

And now, we're on season three and I should know better, but here I am, twiddling my thumbs in anticipation of episode one on Friday. I've never seen an entire season before. I might have tried to watch earlier episodes of season two if they hadn't nixed the half-Asian guy in episode two. I haven't bothered to catch reruns of season one that have been playing on Sunday evenings. But I will give season three a shot and see what irreparable damage is wreaked upon my brain as a result --- or maybe I'll just spend every Friday night cackling for an hour as a result, which would be suitably therapeutic after I get home from my International Economics class.

Terz already found the cute chick that he's going to watch for this time round. She's not as cute as Elizabeth, but Elizabeth truly epitomizes the term 'cute as a button'. I think he's got his eye on some advertising chick this time around, though...


In the five minutes it took me to walk to the train station this morning, I was struck with the idea of writing a giant rant about the part of my job description that reads, "North American College.Counsellor" --- and then dismissed it. Too unteacherly of me, not to mention potentially hurtful for any unwitting student who happens across it; I shouldn't pre-judge all students based on a couple of irritating encounters. But I think I will publish a muted version titled "Tym's [Ed: Name edited] Personal & Opinionated Answers To Your FAQs" and stick it on the appropriate notice board in school, or at least bequeath it to my fellow college counsellor after I leave this school. I'll let you know when a web version is ready.

This morning, I had the sad distinction of punching my husband IN THE FACE while we were yet asleep --- though the moment my hand (fist, really, though not clenched) connected with his nose, we both woke up. While this may sound funny to those of you at home, I can assure you that it's really not. He is not happy with me today and I don't blame him in the slightest. I don't even have an excuse for it: I can't remember what I was dreaming about then, if anything, nor is this the first time it's happened (I kick in my sleep too, poor Terz).

I just uploaded yesterday's entry and found that I had an e-mail from mr brown in my mailbox. Nothing wrong with that, except that he pointed me to the text of what is ostensibly an e-mail hoax.

I think I should clarify that for someone who's a real sceptic of organized religion, I'm a wimp when it comes to superstitions and omens. Things that go bump in the night, things in movies that go bump in the night that make me think twice about actual things that bump in the night, episodes of The X-Files, coincidence andhappenstance, visions and prophecy about Armageddon and the end of days --- I'm a sucker for the lot. That's the reason I don't watch horror movies --- the first half hour of Scream was enough to bother me the other night --- and I'm even wary of cheese like Prophecy because though the movie sucks, the made-up mythology behind it is enough to keep me awake at nights.

And now we have this e-mail. I would ordinarily dismiss it, but I suspect that there is some truth to the fact that a couple has stood up in churches to relay certain prophecies because my parents told me about them a few months ago. In fact, the couple in question has been attending my family's church all this time and their names weren't unfamiliar when my parents brought them up. My mom said that they talked about some Armageddon-ish prophecy and marked October as the time. My parents were openly scoffing at the idea; they're both solid Christians, but they're also wary of modern-day 'miracles' and prophets. We all smiled politely and the subject went away.

And now it's back. Part of me wants to be like mr brown and scoff at the idea, particularly since the church involved has denied everything. Another part of me is wincing at the coincidence, at the fact that it's already October and Bad Things Are Happening Around The World. The rational, modern half of my brain shouldn't believe, but what if, what if, nags the other half, and that's the half that keeps me busy cogitating over nothing.

I mean, I had no such worries when it came to the turn of the millennium (or what everyone was calling the turn of the millennium). For one thing, if I were an all-powerful deity, Jan 1 2000 was just too obvious a date to pull anything, and I knew from talking to computer friends that Y2K wasn't all it was hyped up to be. Also, there was the tricky little detail of the turn of the millenium coming on Jan 1 2001 that few people seemed to notice or, at least, publicly admit. I think it's because they were too busy charging other people big bucks for making their computer systems Y2K-reliant or whatever the term was.

It was either to dismiss millennium fever. It's not so easy to dismiss this because what happened on September 11 was big, huge, beyond anything a layperson would have predicted before that day. Maybe now all bets are off. Maybe this is it --- not the It the Bible or any other Big Book was talking about, but some kind of It anyway. I figure it's long overdue, the way humans have been treating the earth and each other. But I don't particularly want the world to end. I think there's a lot more good that well-meaning people can still do in the aftermath of all that's transpired lately, even though now it might be the irrational optimist in me that's taken over the floor.

Feh. I have to go offline now. Ruminations will continue, no doubt. I was just thinking yesterday that it's creepy how real-world events have hauntingly paralleled the course of study that my IR professor spelled out for us in the syllabus; last night's topic, for instance, was the proximate causes of war and what causes escalation to lead to armed conflict rather than retreat to a peaceful settlement --- and when I woke up yesterday, the world was suddenly at war when things seemed to have slowed down when I went to bed the night before.

Parallels, coincidences, everywhere --- if you want to see them.


On the train, it seems, is the only time I have to write this thing --- which is just as well, because I feel a lot less tired knowing that all I have to do when I get home is HotSync this, copy it to a HTML document, and upload it. Much better than having to write it from scratch at 11 pm.

It bothers me how tired I am tonight. I was doing all right till just before 9, the last 20 minutes before class, when my brain simply gave up the ghost. I mean, it's not like I didn't get enough sleep, although there was a novel middle-of-the-night experience when Terz groggily woke me to ask if I'd closed all the windows since it was furiously storming. (I had.) [He's never done that before; I think it proves we're an Old Married Couple (tm Elaine) now.]

* * *

I'm so used to seeing people here with hair dyed every color but Asian (i.e. jet-black) that I assumed the guy who sat beside me 15 minutes ago was local. But now I look over --- okay, so I was reading his paper over his shoulder --- and he turns out to be Caucasian, with naturally sandy-shade hair. How --- predictable.

[For the record, comments within square brackets, like this sentence, are added after the fact, i.e. after I HotSync'd my Palm and was in the middle of creating the corresponding HTML journal file, mostly to clarify something.]


I was pleasantly surprised today when I got to school: the old back gate was open!

This may not sound vastly important in the light of today's world events --- or maybe it is despite them. See, I was a student at the school where I now teach, and my classroom was practically the closest to the back gate;it was closer to duck out that way to get ice cream on a hot afternoon than to wallk all the way to the canteen. Also, it was the gate by which we left school to take the bus home. I have fond memories of waltzing in and out of that gate.

The gate's been closed for about two years now, while extensive construction was going on in the apartment buildings adjacent to it. Construction's been winding down for the past couple of months and I was hoping the gate would reopen before my last day at work here.

And now it has --- a lone bright spot on what is otherwise a dour - literally (it rained all night) and metaphorically --- day.

Damn. It took me 11 minutes to write that in my Palm. I am nowhere near note-taking celerity yet.

The problem with the book I currently read on the train is that the pseudo-water-coloured stylized-skinny-people line drawing on the cover, combined with the title (Tender is the Night), has all the hallmarks of a supermarket romance.

I am a reading snob, I'll admit it. I pride myself on being able to digest Philip Roth and Virginia Woolf before 7:30 am on the way to work. But with this cheap, and alas cheap-looking, copy of Tender is the Night, I fear that carefully honed reputation has been plainly undermined.
As it turns out, I'm not reading Fitzgerald but writing my journal [in my Palm] on my way to work today. It's an experiment that may result in a highly disjointed and incoherent entry, but it may also prove to be a more accurate record of my thoughts. When I used to keep an old-fashioned handwritten journal, it was always recorded in a handy-sized blank book --- albeit usually a bourgeois tome from Borders --- that I could carry around with me and stick/staple stuff into. It's harder to do that with a web journal.

You know, I had so many other thoughts during the five-minute walk to the train station, but I've forgotten them all in the struggle with Jot's handwriting-recognition foibles and with people who insist on pushing past me instead of just saying "Excuse me". Bloody Singaporeans.

(No, I don't love my countrymen too much.)

On the bright side, I finally got a seat at 7:10 am. And I remain amused by people who stare at PDA-writing folks like they've mastered an alien language --- which I suppose we have, to a certain extent. If only they knew how much of this scribbling was frustrated backspacing.

I knew this day would come: my Palm is now an expensive, glorified journal.


If I were titling my journal entries, I would call this one "Aftershocks".

I finally had time to catch up on my websites today: friends' web journals that I read daily, if possible, as well as my staple news sites (Salon, the local paper, and The New York Times, in that particular order). I found out that one friend in the US lost her job --- the first casualty of the growing economic recession whom I know personally. I found out that a couple others, in the US and elsewhere, are still coping with the emotional aftermath of what everyone seems to refer to colloquially as 9-1-1. All this is juxtaposed with the wary optimism of my graduating class: students coming to me on a daily basis to ask me for advice about which colleges to apply to and if they should avoid New York City or DC because their parents are jittery. I want to tell them that everything will be okay, that the 'new economy' everyone was talking about two months ago isn't wiped out yet, that they shouldn't resort to purely pragmatic choices in the wake of 9-1-1. But I can't help feeling if I'm plugging a reality that no longer exists while everyone else has moved on to what has become the new reality.

I also had the opportunity this past week to meet an admissions officer from LeHigh University (in Pennsylvania, for those of you who don't know) and we got to talking about the consequences of 9-1-1. He was already traveling in Asia when the terrorist attacks happened, so he continued his trip although the Middle East portion got cancelled. He's seen firsthand how tight airport security has become, how empty the hotels are, how many events are being cancelled everywhere, not just in the United States. It all sounded surreal coming from him, yet there was a tightness to his voice- -- and this was the first time I'd met him --- that made it clear that he was just as taken aback by the past few weeks' events.

And finally, I saw for the first time today live footage of the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center. I watched a half-hour of CNN at 3 pm, and they cut to the footage twice during the broadcast. Seeing a lone crane extend its arm inexorably towards still smoking wreckage --- is that for real? --- was the closest I've come to facing 9-1-1 since the incidents themselves. It is for real, oh deluded brain of mine, and it is smoking, even at night.

Yet. Life goes on. Friends attend a Renaissance Faire in Maryland (I wanna go with you all someday!). I went for high tea with colleagues yesterday afternoon and we had a blast chilling out together after all the tension of examination marking and other typical end-of-the-school-year stresses. We gossiped, bitched, laughed, exulted over the exquisite food (the Goodwood Park Hotel's high tea never fails) and told silly stories from our teenage years. I got to know a colleague whom I'd chatted with but never really had the chance to talk to --- and his last day at work is on Monday because he's going off for a three-month course afterwards and won't be back till January! I wish we'd had more of an opportunity to talk earlier.

Today, I am happily wasting the day away. I have the weekly readings for Monday night's IR class to do, but that's always Sunday's job. My afternoon appointment has been cancelled, so the only thing I have to do today is head over to the parentals' for dinner later (Mom is making steak and we have bought the wine). Terz is well ahead of schedule on his marking, so he's taking a well-deserved nap now. I read another interview with Jonathan Frantzen (author of The Corrections) and am determined to get his book at Kinokuniya this week, since I have a $20 book voucher that expires on Oct 11.

Kinokuniya, for you non-Singaporeans/non-Japanese out there, is a huge Japanese book store that is like Barnes & Noble plus Borders combined --- it carries mostly English-language books in Singapore, but also has weighty Japanese, Chinese, comics (English/Chinese/Japanese) and Japanese stationery sections. My friend informs me that they're no longer pursuing their loyalty program (where you get a $50 voucher for every $500 you purchase over six months --- not a problem for bibliophiles like myself, although usually I combine efforts with friends and we split the $50 voucher proportionately between ourselves), so I might go back to buying books at Borders. But Kinokuniya has the most beautiful poetry section in Singapore. They even had a copy of Robert Lowell's Notebooks a few months ago! --- Which I gleefully and promptly snapped up.

Singapore's bookstores are mostly a wasteland of business, computer and self-help books, by the way. So don't blame me for becoming attached to our two giant chain bookstores because they're honestly the best we've got.

I think I will go read some more websites. I've got a lot of catching up to do for the past week and it doesn't help that MightyBigTV's server is overloaded at the moment.


Despite the last entry's triumphant hurrah at having completed marking, the fact that I didn't have the time to compose a coherent entry until right now tells you something about the ups and downs of my life. None of it was unexpected; none of it was horrendous. It was just busy-busy-busy, with little reprieves and most certainly not enough sleep.

Firstly, after I finished the torrential marking, I had to sit down and write my book review assignment for my Monday night IR class. The required length was 5-8 pages (not much at all), and I'd already read the book the previous weekend (thank goodness I'd had the foresight and discipline to do that), so it wasn't a formidable task for an entire weekend. It helped that my Saturday appointment was cancelled, leaving me absolutely free all day Saturday and Sunday to concentrate on the thing.

The first paragraph was okay, but after a while, I started to remember why I'm so awful at writing essays. It's not the language, it's not the ideas --- it's the concentration power. For a start, those of you who know me well know that I pick at my nails --- incessantly --- to the point where I've been called on it as a student (i.e. the teacher said, "If your nails are more fascinating than my lesson, get out of the classroom.") and my classmates always thought I was bored and I'm pretty sure my colleagues sometimes think that when I'm diligently picking away at the bits of skin on my fingertips amidst a serious staff meeting.

But this finger-picking thing is just me. Terz is trying to cure me of the habit --- the teacher-like way, by growling at me when he catches me at it --- but I'm not sure how much success he's going to have. That's why I like wearing nail polish: I pick at my nails less then because I don't want to mar the neat layer of color.

All of which is a long way of saying that it's hard for me to write any paper because I pick, pick, pick while I think --- and then I have a good thought, but I'm just about to get that teeny bit of skin flake off, and then by the time I get round to typing the though, it's taken me twice as long to write the assignment as it should.

It was a relief to finish the paper on Sunday night --- I always proofread things till the absolute last minute and I even e-mailed a copy to my web account so I'd have it handy if it struck me to rewrite something while I was at work. But as the work day turned out, I barely had time to breathe between class and ad hoc student consultations, and the next thing I knew, it was 5:30 pm and thank goodness my lovely colleague Mel drove me to the university (even though it really wasn't on her way) or I'd've been all the more stressed. See, I not only had to turn in the book review assignment but also make a 10-15 minute presentation on it. I'd done all the thinking, but the presentation part was really not together because I obviously couldn't just read aloud my paper, yet there was so much interesting stuff I wanted to say. I also didn't want to be late because the first couple of times we had book reviews (the professor scheduled us so that there's 2-3 of us presenting a book each per lesson), people were always "sick", and the prof would get this dubious look on his face, and as a teacher I can totally appreciate that expression, and I didn't want even want to be late for this class, even though we don't start on the dot at six pm.

Which just goes to show what a manic student I am. No wonder I chalked up all those As when I was younger.

Post-book review, I thought I could rest, but of course in my ecstasy at having completed the marking, I'd forgotten about all the other administrative details that I had to complete before I bid farewell to my graduating classes at the end of this week. On Monday, there were grades to double-check before they were entered into the college database --- oh, and students coming to see me to review their examination essays or ask me to write recommendations for their applications to various US universities. On Tuesday, there were grades to be checked by the students, grades to be modified and as the civics tutor (US translation: homeroom teacher) for my class, I had to enter brief remarks into the database, so that it would be printed out on their progress reports for Friday --- and I had more students concerned about their work and about university applications to counsel. On Wednesday, I realized I had to finish my work review form (a summary of everything I did this year, how well I met last year's targets, and target-setting for next year, the latter of which is daft for me because I will probably be in a different job next year, but that's the government for you) by this week and sit down with the head of English to go over it, because all the school staff will be ranked (another Singaporean government favorite) in a giant meeting on Saturday, and all our forms need to be tidied and turned in by then.

Oh, and we had a staff meeting on Wednesday too.

Today I thought I could work on the aforementioned work review form. I should've known better. I parked myself at my desk, typing diligently at my laptop and trying to copy-paste as much stuff as possible from last year's form --- and then all these kids started showing up, one after the other, in a constant flow for about three hours. Some wanted to ask me about their university choices, others needed a more in-depth consultation on their career options and university choices, and others still wanted to review examination essays. I swear, I talked practically non-stop for three hours. By the end of that, I was so pooped that I cancelled the very last official literature lesson of the year that I was going to teach; I just couldn't do it. I'd already missed lunch, my work review form was nowhere near being completed, and this silly database (TRAISI, for you MOE types out there) was being all fucked-up and slow, and I just couldn't get that done either. (Fortunately, that's not critical to complete my work review form.)

And finally, at two pm, when I thought I had achieved some peace and quiet at last, a former student showed up to say hello and I couldn't just send her away, even though I don't know her very well and I really wanted to finish my form so I could go home --- so we chatted for about half an hour. She's studying psychology at the University of York in England on a government scholarship, so we have a lot in common, really. (My best friend read psych at York too, though her parents paid for her education, and I went to Northwestern on a similar government scholarship.)

Blah blah blah --- I finished the silly form at three-ish, and finally left school. Whew. And still pooped.

Oh, and for those of you that care, in between all that, I tidied up a dragon for the hatching that happened this morning my time (I was logged on and hoping to help while I was ostensibly doing work stuff, as illicit as it might be, but as things turned out, I was too distracted by students and things to glance at the appropriate screen more than a couple of times every hour anyway). So the hatching is over, everything is peachy-keen, and the entire Search Crew is so glad they get some vacation time now.

Oh, and today I realized that there's only one more episode of Gilmore Girls which rounds up the local TV station's broadcast of the first season, so I'll be sadly without femme focus until Buffy returns on October 30. I'm a bit hesitant about the new Buffy season (season five, with Dracula and knights and Dawn and things), but I suppose it can't hurt to watch it.

Hey, I finished this really rambling account and it's not even eleven pm yet! I'm going to take myself to bed now and hopefully resume a semblance of more regular journal-keeping henceforth. Terz received his first round of marking on Wednesday, so he's red-pen-man for the next few weeks. I'll be sure to be quiet and keep to the corners until he's done, although we'll have to emerge occasionally to have dinner with family and things --- my mom's birthday and Terz's brother's birthday are both in mid-October. Anyone in Singapore want to recommend a place for high tea? We went to the Shangri-La last year and I'd like to try some place new this year.